Pilot Program Aims to Reduce Waste With Reusable Takeout Containers
Four Haleʻiwa restaurants are participating in a new pilot program that aims to reduce waste, while also saving them money.
Zero Waste Oʻahu's Full Cycle Takeout program launched last month at Rajanee Thai, Cosmic Kitchen, Cholo's, and Haleʻiwa Joe's. It provides the restaurants with reusable takeout containers — for free.
"We know that takeout is not going anywhere," said program co-founder Jennifer Milholen. "The most sustainable option for food vendors is dining in — they just wash their plates, wash their own utensils, zero waste."
Milholen says the customers at participating restaurants can request to use the containers through the program's app. Users will not only have to create an account, but they will also have to enter the number of containers they will be using.
Milholen says staff at the restaurants will confirm customers have entered the correct information.
"They have the option of immediately returning the container they've used to one of the three return stations in Haleʻiwa, or they have up to a week to return it," said Milholen.
In order to return the containers, customers will have to log back onto the app and use the QR code at the return station. If a container isn't returned, a charge of $6.50 will be applied to the user's account.
Program staff collect returned containers daily, and cleans them to state Department of Health standards. Milholen says before they launched, the program
"We gave them the containers that we wanted to use, we talked about the process for them, and we got approval from them," she said.
A restaurant partner allows the program to clean the containers using their dishwashers.
"So we know that they're inspected and meet all the codes. And we also dry to Department of Health standards as well."
Milholen says more North Shore restaurants have reached out to participate in the program. But because the program just launched, she says they are holding off on adding more restaurants.
"We definitely want inquiries about this, because the idea is that we want to expand this."
The benefits of the program
Full Cycle Takeout cites benefits in three main areas — environment, social and business.
Environmentally, the reusable containers reduce the amount of single-use plastics going to the landfill, and entering the environment.
The containers have a minimum service life of 300 uses, but can be used up to a thousand times. Although there is a service life to the containers, Milholen says it prevents hundreds of single-use items from going to the landfill, or entering the environment.
"No matter what the products made of, whether it's plastic, foam, compostable fiber, compostable plastics, they're all disposable. They represent a manufacturing environmental impact," said Milholen.
"When we are taking those disposables out of the equation, they can no longer end up on the shores, they can no longer end up in the water on beach cleanups."
Socially, Milholen says the program brings theories and plans to address environmental impacts into practice. Primarily by making eco-friendly options available to consumers.
"The idea is making this idea familiar. So folks can go to a restaurant, they see that reusables are an option, they become more and more familiar with it so that a year from now, going into a restaurant and seeing that reusables are an option is now just commonplace."
Milholen says providing the social benefits could result in better business for restaurants.
Takeout containers are part of an eatery's expenses, and that has only grown within the last year and a half due to the pandemic. Milholen estimates smaller establishments could spend roughly $6,000 a year on single-use containers, while larger ones could spend up to $70,000.
"If we can get this program to a point where it's scalable, then we're looking at significant savings for restaurants," said Milholen.
The Full Cycle Takeout program is currently free for participating restaurants, because it's funded by a grant from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration for the next year and a half.
Milholen says program staff is eyeing a transition into a revenue-model in order to expand and continue its mission into the future. But the hope is to make it more attractive to restaurants, by making the service cheaper than buying disposable containers.
More information can be found at www.fullcycletakeouthawaii.org